Once upon a time, deep in the vast desert plains of the dry lands, a young Gallifreyan stirred in his sleep. Nestled under a makeshift blanket in a hard wooden bed, perched in the uppermost corner of a large empty barn, the boy tossed and turned, haunted by bad dreams and a fear of the future. Surrounded by little else but bundles of hay and layers of sand, he wept into his pillow, shivering and alone. Concerned for the child, a young woman climbed up the ladder towards him and sat at his side. “Now,” she whispered, picking up a dusty old book from a nearby table and blowing away the dust between its pages, “let me tell you a story…”
…or at least, that’s what may as well be the overarching premise for Justin Richards’ latest contribution to the ever-growing range of Doctor Who books, released at the end of last year. You can completely imagine this compendium of sci-fi spins on classic folklore being read to little Time Lords at their bedside, just like Clara’s calming speech to the young Doctor at the end of TV episode Listen. Fortunately, this isn’t a book that’s only suitable for the children of Gallifrey – it’s just as enticing for those of us who grew up here on Earth having our heads filled with fantastical stories before drifting off into the land of nod.
As such, Time Lord Fairy Tales is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It contains fifteen well-known stories from our childhoods, all given intriguing new timey wimey twists. From Snow White to Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel to Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood to the Three Little Pigs, all the usual suspects are accounted for – the surprising thing is, perhaps, just how well they translate into the world of Doctor Who.
Of course, as with every anthology, some stories make the transition more smoothly than others. While the majority successfully work the fairytale around the sci-fi setting, some seem merely content to offer up the original with added aliens or technobabble – though fortunately, even those are worth reading just on the strength of the core story itself. The most memorable ones are those where you don’t even realise just how perfectly the fairytale fits the Doctor Who format until you read them – for instance, swapping out magic spells for cryogenic chambers in “Frozen Beauty”, or the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the plague of rats for The Second Doctor and an army of Cybermats in “The Scruffy Piper”. Speaking of The Doctor, he does pop up from time to time, and in a few of his different regenerations, but never as the main protagonist – which is a sensible choice, as it leaves him with an air of mystery and wonder, almost as if you were there, experiencing him swooping into the adventure and then swooping out again just as quickly as he came.
Beyond the selection of stories, everything is wrapped up nicely in a beautiful hardback cover and adorned with visually striking illustrations throughout – the artwork here is a real treat, harkening back to the look and feel of the Brothers Grimm. Arguably the best thing about Time Lord Fairy Tales though is that, due to its bite-sized nature, it could actually emulate its original source material and serve as a perfect form of bedtime reading – whether it be for grown-ups eager for a rush of nostalgia, or a whole new generation of children who have grown up with Doctor Who and are hearing these stories for the first time. It’s a lovely way to bridge the gap between age groups – it’s fun for all the family, just like the television show.
Carefully walking the line between “kiddy” and “not kiddy enough” to provide something that everyone can enjoy, Time Lord Fairy Tales is a unique and worthwhile addition to anyone’s Doctor Who collection. It’s a whole new way to experience the fairy tales you know and love, with the same adventures and morals at heart, this time, lavished in a coating of delicious Doctor Who goodness. Just make sure it’s not attached to a gingerbread house guarded by a Krillitane witch before you dive in and indulge…